A four-year starter at Minnesota, Antoine Winfield Jr. played as a free safety in both single and two-high looks. His father, Antoine Winfield, played 14 seasons in the NFL as a cornerback for the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings. Winfield Jr. started 30 of 33 games at Minnesota, including 12 games in 2019. He led the team in tackles (88), interceptions (7), and forced fumbles (2) during his final year.
The 2019 season was his first full season since his freshman year in 2016. In 2017, Winfield Jr. suffered a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the final eight games of the season. In addition, his 2018 season was cut short due to a torn ligament in his left foot that caused him to miss the final nine games of the season. Following two seasons sidelined with injuries, Winfield Jr. broke onto the scene with his best collegiate year in 2019.
Winfield Jr. has adequate height and solid weight. His thick lower half resembles that of a running back. He’s a good athlete, but the lack of elite athletic traits will give some organizations concern.
Vs. the Run
Playing from deep zone coverages, Winfield Jr. crashes downhill as if he were shot out of a cannon when his mind is made up on where he’s going. He’s impressively physical despite his size. Once he reaches the ball carrier, Winfield displays very good tackling technique to either lower his shoulder and lay a massive blow into the stomach of the running back, or wrapping up.
Winfield Jr. demonstrates the ability to take on bigger running backs with physicality despite his lack of size. His length can hurt him at times when shiftier backs can get outside of his reach when he is unable to square them up. Regardless, the competitiveness and willingness to play aggressively against the run are there.
Winfield’s ability to read the backfield from deep or close to the line of scrimmage, allowing him to position himself with leverage. Once the ball is in the hands of a playmaker, it won’t be long before you see Winfield arrive to make a play.
There were times where his lack of length hurt him against the run. When running backs were able to remain outside of his reach, Winfield struggled to make the open field tackle as he was unable to square up his opponent. Shiftier backs caused him trouble at times.
Vs. the Pass
Winfield Jr. displayed excellent zone coverage abilities during his final year at Minnesota. With his eyes never leaving the quarterback, Winfield was able to position himself and jump routes consistently. Even when he is aligned in the deep center of the defense, Winfield does an excellent job of reading the quarterback while still picking up receivers entering his zone responsibility.
The play above is an excellent example of Winfield reading the quarterback. Notice how his eyes never leave the quarterback. As the receiver enters his zone on a post route, Winfield picks up the route and recognizes the quarterback begin to run. He breaks off of his coverage to come downhill to stop the run from gaining additional yardage.
His ability to feel receivers coming into his area and utilize his peripheral vision to stay focused on the quarterback is impressive. He has an excellent knowledge of route concepts, which one would expect given his background, and it shows up regularly in his game.
Winfield Jr. wins most consistently due to his mental processing. Understanding what offenses are doing from watching hours of film leading up to games is evident. On the play below, Winfield Jr. talked with ESPN about how he recognized the formation from watching Penn State’s film that week. He knew that when wide receiver K. J. Hamler moved into the slot, the quarterback would target him on a fade route.
Aligned as the single high safety, Winfield Jr.’s responsibility is to pick up post routes over the middle. Seeing Hamler motion into the slot, he knew the play before the ball even snapped. Keeping his eyes on the quarterback, Winfield leaned toward the outside and undercut the route before the quarterback had even finished his throwing motion making his second interception of the afternoon.
The first thing that comes to mind when hearing about Winfield Jr. is ball skills. His ability to read quarterbacks from anywhere on the field, diagnose quickly, and leverage himself to make plays on the ball is outstanding. He knows his limits, and will often be seen baiting quarterbacks into making throws that end up as turnovers.
While there is some question to Winfield Jr.’s change of direction skills, he does flash plays like the one above where he can recover from a false step. He opens his hips to the outside and is forced to recover when the receiver breaks inside. Winfield quickly turns and accelerates to get underneath the route, positioning himself to make the interception.
There are times that his lack of elite athleticism can hurt him, but his Football IQ makes up for it most of the time. He can play single-high, but his best fit would likely be in two-high coverages allowing him to play more aggressively.
Winfield Jr. plays better in zone coverages, but he has the footwork to play in man coverage as well. He does a good job of staying in phase with most tight ends when in the slot. Quick slot receivers will give him trouble from time to time. Given his aggressive playstyle, he can be caught out of position against double moves.
When tasked with blitzing, Winfield displays excellent timing, whether coming off of the edge or through the A gap. When unaccounted for, he creates immediate chaos in the backfield and delivers with a punishing hit.
Adding to his arsenal of counters would improve this area as he can get caught up when offensive linemen intercept his path to the quarterback.